Monday, December 16, 2013

Deadly Consequences

They're at it again. And Governor Brian Sandoval (R-Denial) must again confront an issue he keeps trying to sweep under the rug in the Governor's Mansion. Oh, yes. That's right. We're talking about the mental health patient dumping scandal. And the Sacramento Bee released another explosive article yesterday chronicling even more victims of this horrifying scandal.

This year, Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital has been embroiled in scandal over a growing dossier of incidents where the hospital had mental health patients bused out of state without accounting for the patients' continuing treatment needs. It's led two major California cities (Los Angeles & San Francisco) to draft law suits against the State of Nevada, and it prodded the federal government to review both accreditation and funding for Southern Nevada's largest public mental health treatment facility. And on top of all that, it's renewed investigations into incredibly long waiting lists and inadequate treatment at Lake's Crossing Psychiatric Hospital in Sparks.

Clearly, Nevada has a patient dumping problem. The state was looking for a "cheap way out", but it's instead leading to very costly consequences. Those consequences have especially been costly for the victims profiled in the Sacramento Bee article on Rawson-Neal patients bused out of state... Only to fall (back) into a life of crime.

Consider the case of Mark Hesselgrave. He was convicted of second degree murder in 1993 for strangling his wife in Arizona. Shortly after being released from prison in October 2012, he moved to Southern Nevada. And after attempting suicide, he landed at Rawson-Neal. Here's what followed.

On Feb. 2, two days after he was admitted, Rawson-Neal deemed Hesselgrave fit for bus travel, the records state, and discharged him with a bus ticket, psychiatric medications for the ride and a recommendation to seek out Narcotics Anonymous meetings in Phoenix. After a bus ride that he described as “crazy,” Hesselgrave said he arrived at the Phoenix terminal with no one waiting for him. Without money or a place to live, he said, he ended up walking about 20 miles to a friend’s house in the suburbs.

From Arizona, Hesselgrave migrated to North Dakota to pursue a job in the oil fields. He quickly found work. Things were going pretty well, he said, until May 12, when he stabbed his roommate repeatedly. Eddie Bergeson survived, but suffered stab wounds in his face, stomach and back, according to a police affidavit.

“I hope he’s dead, I think he’s dead, I’m glad he’s dead,” Hesselgrave said as he stood over Bergeson, according to the affidavit.

Hesselgrave remains jailed in North Dakota, awaiting trial on charges of attempted murder. Police say he planned the attack; Hesselgrave contends they were drinking and got in a fight. He said he wonders whether things would have turned out differently had he received more treatment after his release from prison.

Rawson-Neal “didn’t try to treat me or nothing,” he said. “They could have kept me for 21 days. They could have ... got my depression in check.”

Mark Hesselgrave is just one of several stories of patients who needed help, but couldn't find it at Rawson-Neal. Instead, they were sent elsewhere. And others were ultimately harmed. At least one was killed. And a patient may have succeeded in committing suicide.

Of course, Governor Brian Sandoval('s spokesperson) said he was "appalled" by this report. However, it remains to be seen what (if anything) will be done about it.

Again, this is what happens when we try to provide health care "on the cheap". We ultimately haven't saved money. And we certainly haven't saved lives. Something must change.

Over the course of this year, we've been witnessing the consequences of neglecting people in serious need of treatment. We've been learning the hard way that providing proper mental health care is not just "bleeding heart liberalism", but also the most efficient way to save lives. How many more lives must be harmed and/or lost before we finally learn this lesson and end this deadly scandal?

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